Luke DeCock

How will UNC, Duke and NC State do this football season? Here’s what we think.

N.C. State quarterback Jalan McClendon (2), left, laughs with quarterback Ryan Finley (15) during N.C. State football's first practice of fall camp at the Curtis and Jacqueline Dail Football Practice Complex on July 29, 2017.
N.C. State quarterback Jalan McClendon (2), left, laughs with quarterback Ryan Finley (15) during N.C. State football's first practice of fall camp at the Curtis and Jacqueline Dail Football Practice Complex on July 29, 2017. ehyman@newsobserver.com

This certainly isn’t the college football season that has debuted with the most fanfare in the Triangle in recent years. Duke is trying to get back to a bowl game, North Carolina has a plethora of questions on both sides of the ball and N.C. State has few apparent weaknesses, which is disturbing to conditioned-to-fear-the-worst Wolfpack fans.

Duke

Best-case scenario: Given an offseason to prepare, quarterback Daniel Jones emerges as the fulcrum of a high-powered offense and the Blue Devils are once again a threat in the topsy-turvy Coastal Division at 8-4.

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Worst-case scenario: A difficult start to the season leaves the Blue Devils weary and battered in the winnable late going. Early losses to Northwestern and Baylor could drop Duke to 4-8, again.

The prediction: There are enough coin-flip games on the schedule for the Blue Devils to get back to a bowl game at 6-6, but they may have to sweep Army, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest at the end to do it.

North Carolina

Best-case scenario: Despite all the new faces, there’s enough talent to give the Tar Heels an explosive offense to go with a veteran defense and get to 9-3 with no Clemson or Florida State on the schedule.

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Worst-case scenario: A patchwork offensive line, a lack of playmakers and quarterback problems leave North Carolina punchless with predictable results: 4-8.

The prediction: The inexperience will make this an erratic, mercurial team, capable of beating almost anyone and losing to anyone. Equal numbers of upset wins and bad losses will leave the Tar Heels 7-5.

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N.C. State

Best-case scenario: The Wolfpack beats Clemson and Louisville at home, pulls at least one upset on the road and takes care of business otherwise to finish 10-2 with a chance at the Atlantic Division title.

Worst-case scenario: A season-opening loss to South Carolina is a harbinger of things to come, with the Wolfpack unable to reach its potential and falling to 6-6 … or worse.

The prediction: This team has the talent and experience to challenge the ACC’s heavyweights, although it’s unrealistic to expect N.C. State to beat them all. A solid 8-4, maybe even 9-3, is well within reach.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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